The plans for how London will be policed over the next three years came out yesterday. The headline news is that 63 front counters will close (as opposed to the 65 planned; Gipsy Hill and Dagenham are saved), a move that Boris Johnson used his Telegraph column to position as
a choice between spending more money on police buildings or putting police men and women out on the street... overall we have been able to reorganise the building stock so as to keep a 24-hour station in every borough, increase the number of contact points, and above all increase the number of police officers by saving £60 million in annual running costs of the buildings... we are now actively recruiting 4,500 more police in order to drive crime down further.
Channel 4 Factcheck, who are really on the ball when it comes to Metropolitan police staffing levels, takes issue with this. One of the Mayor's mantras is that police numbers should be "at or around 32,000" (why that number, we've never quite found out). At the end of this month the Met expects to have 30,437 officers on staff and they're not currently recruiting. Factcheck also bursts any illusion we may be holding that "4,500 more police" means a total of 35,000-37,000 officers by 2016. In fact, these recruits will replace natural turnover, something that Channel 4 estimates will just about hold numbers steady at fewer than 31,000. If you want some more context, we looked at policing levels since 2008 during the election.
As for these front counters and contact points? In answers to the London Assembly, Boris previously promised
I can confirm that no front counter will close unless an equivalent or better facility for public access has been identified.
Sadly, this now looks not to be the case. From boroughs selected at random: Barking and Dagenham keeps Dagenham as its 24 hour station, Barking is moved to Barking Learning Centre and becomes daytime only, and Marks Gate closes. Four 'contact points' will open around the borough, open for a total of three hours a week each. Lewisham loses Brockley and Sydenham and gains a contact point at Catford Hill, open for three hours a week each. Lewisham may get further contact points in supermarkets and stations. Kensington and Chelsea loses Chelsea and gains four contact points, open – you've guessed it – for three hours a week each. Camden loses West Hampstead, Albany Street, Hampstead and gains four contact points, open for the standard three hours a week each.
The other big change is neighbourhood policing. The Local Policing Model means that, by October, your local Safer Neighbourhood Team will have one constable and PCSO dedicated to it, with the rest of the police able to be deployed more flexibly around the borough. New Scotland Yard is also definitely going.
Does anyone really care, though? During the consultation period, the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) received 200 written responses, 300 people filled out the MOPAC questionnaire and 2,600 went to one of the 33 borough meetings. That's not many. There are a number of possible inferences to be drawn from this: a) that the consultation perhaps wasn't advertised widely enough b) that the consultation was too vague to prompt much action or response – compare the Met's strategy speak (and apparently misleading figures) with the reams of supporting documents and data available as part of the fire brigade cuts consultation c) that disillusionment with the police is widespread enough for people to not want to engage, or d) that people are only interested in the police when they're screwing up.